- Mixed reactions trail extension
The Federal Government yesterday said the current land border closure, under the Exercise Swift Response, would continue beyond the January 31, 2020 timeline.
A memo from the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), dated November 1, 2019, directed customs officers involved in the border patrol to continue the exercise till January 2020.
The NCS launched the joint border security exercise across 25 states on August 20, 2019 along with the Nigeria Immigration Service, armed forces, police and other security agencies.
The exercise, coordinated by the Office of the National Security Adviser, has held in the south-south, southwest, north-central and northwest.
The closure affects goods’ export and import to and from the Nigerian land borders to Benin Republic, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Niger, Burkina Faso and other West African countries.
The Comptroller-General of Customs, Hameed Ali, had said in October that the exercise would be reviewed and halted where necessary.
The Public Relations Officer of Customs, Deputy Comptroller Joseph Attah, when approached for more clarification on the memo yesterday, told Daily Trust that the NCS was not reopening the land borders on January 31.
“It (memo) has to do with only this particular phase. A lot of operations are run in phases and it says this phase will end on January 31. That does not mean the terminal date for the entire operation.
“Please note that the internal memo is referring to the end of this phase of the joint security ‘Ex Swift Response’ and not a terminal date for the partial border closure. Security operation of this kind is usually in phases. The partial border closure will continue until the set objectives are achieved.”
Another Customs official hinted that by January 31, other security agencies might withdraw to their normal services, “while Customs operatives continue to enforce the partial border closure.”
He said the exercise sent a strong message to neighbouring countries about the stance of Nigeria against smuggling and irregular migration.
“This is what the president emphasized on and we have a Comptroller-General that wants that enforced, ensuring that the rules of the Economic Community of West African States on goods’ transit are followed,” the official said.
The Customs CG had, on his October 14, 2019 while briefing reporters in Abuja, said: “It is as long as it will take our neighbours to come to the table and agree to execute exactly what was agreed upon during former Olusegun Obasanjo’s time which is simple adherence to ECOWAS transit procedure. That has not happened.”
Ali had emphasized on the gains of the border closure, saying it had curbed the smuggling of foreign rice into Nigeria along with other prohibited items.
Despite complaints by many Nigerians that the operation was hindering the right of persons to movement and increasing prices of goods, especially rice, the Customs boss had noted that “When it comes to security, all other laws take a back seat. Nigeria must survive first, then, we can begin to consider your rights.
“Our series of interactions and engagements with rice miller Association of Nigeria has shown that the border closure has enhanced more production and milling of Nigerian rice. Patronage of Nigerian rice has increased and farmers are expanding their farms as well as engaging more hands.”
Ali had also stated that the border closure had impacted positively on revenue generation which would be used to build more infrastructure and develop critical sectors of the nation’s economy.
Meanwhile, experts and ordinary Nigerians have expressed mixed feelings over the extension of the border closure.
The Director-General of the Textile Manufacturers Association, Kwajaffa Hamma, in a chat with Daily Trust yesterday, described the extension of the border closure as a welcome development.
Hamma said: “We have been told that our Customs is raking more revenue, there is a reduction in arms’ smuggling. We have also been told that the border closure is preventing other criminal activities. We are craving for more extension so that we can stabilise as a country.”
Evaluating the impact of the border closure on the textile subsector, Hamma said: “I can confirm to you that there is a drastic reduction in smuggled textiles and we are gradually beginning to see some demand. But you know these smugglers had stockpiled their warehouses and that would take some time to deplete.”
The Kebbi State branch of the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria yesterday said the extension of the land border closure was good for rice farmers in the country.
The chairman of the association in the state, Alhaji Sahabi Muhammed Augie, told Daily Trust that the extension was a good development for rice production in Nigeria.
He said: “In the first place, the borders were closed because of the importation as well as smuggling of rice into the country. The extension of its closure is good for us.
“We are currently harvesting rice in many states. If the borders are shut till January, it is good for our farmers”.
A resident of Lokoja, Mohammed Anda, condemned the extension of the border closure, alleging that “The Federal Government has succeeded in further impoverishing the masses because if you go to the market now, a bag of rice sells for N37,000 and the poor man cannot afford such thing. Even the local rice they are claiming people can afford is not available in the market.
“When Buhari was contesting, he didn’t say he was going to unleash poverty us. He promised to remove 100 million people out of poverty. The Federal Government needs to urgently review the closure of borders”.
Another resident, Ibrahim Obansa, alleged that the border closure, had made life unbearable for the masses as cost of food items had “reached roof top” in the markets.
“In the forthcoming festive season, the situation will be worse for the masses because not many people will be able celebrate the Christmas and New Year with their families with the current situation of things,” he said.
Our correspondent in Maiduguri reports that the land border closure had little or no effect on border communities across Borno State due to the Boko Haram insurgency.
Checks at motor parks in Maiduguri, including Muna Garage, Bama Road, Baga Road and Bolori Store, where trucks used to convey goods to neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republics, showed that since 2014 when Boko Haram insurgents infiltrated communities across border areas, trans-border trades and other activities had stopped.
Sesan Onilemo, the Editor-in-Chief of Shipping Position, viewed the border closure extension as a double edge, saying while it would boost local production of rice, poultry products and textiles; it would affect the export capacity of local manufacturers who might want to export their products to other West Africa countries.
It will also affect the diplomatic relationship between Nigeria and other countries in the sub-region. Already, Ghanaians are shutting down businessese owned by Nigerians and the government intends to impose economic sanction on Nigeria,” he added.
Bolaji Akinola, the chief executive officer, Ships and Ports, said the extension of the border closure was in the overall interest of the nation.
“The border closure should be extended beyond two years to allow local industry to thrive. It will curb proliferation of small arms,” he said.